I was scrolling through Twitter one Monday night when I came across a retweet by the NFL Network announcing the ranking of Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward at number 64 for their NFL Top 100 campaign. When I clicked on the tweet, by my surprise I saw that Hayward led the league last year with seven interceptions. Three players (Quintin Demps, Marcus Peters, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) tied for second place with six. As the list stands currently, Marcus Peters is the only other player ranked in the top 100 at 32. Today, I will look at how Hayward got the interceptions and if there were any more opportunities to take the ball away.
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Casey Hayward (#26), highlighted prior to the play, is lined up across and just a bit inside from third-year receiver Marqise Lee (#11). At the snap, Hayward gets slightly back while still facing Lee, waiting on his route. Lee takes a short step forward before heading inside. Hayward tries to get a hand on him, but Lee swipes it away and starts to push upfield. Hayward stays pressed to Lee’s back while looking at Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (#5). Roughly six yards later, Lee makes his cut to the middle of the field on a dig route with the ball already thrown and Hayward near him from behind. The thrown ball from Bortles was behind his intended receiver into the waiting arms of Hayward. Unfortunately, the ball ricochets off of him with Hayward hitting the ground. With fate as it may, the ball flops onto Hayward’s lap. Cha-ching. Hayward gets his one-of-seven interceptions. Below is the end zone view of the thrown ball.
Context: Same game as the previous play, 1st and 10 after a big play by Julius Thomas, 3:01 left in the second quarter, ball on Chargers 39-yard line with San Diego in what looks like Cover 6.
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On this play, Hayward is playing off and a bit inside over Allen Hurns (#88) at the top of the screen. At the snap, Hayward takes a crab step upfield anticipating Hurns to go deep while looking at Bortles. Hurns does go vertical with Hayward reacting while still keeping his eyes in the backfield. Bortles feels pressure and climbs the pocket while looking at Hurns and Rashad Greene (#13). Seeing that Hayward is over and sticking to Hurns, Bortles looks to Greene who looks to be in good position to be open by the time the ball arrives. Unfortunately, Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers (#24) gets slight contact on Greene with his hand slowing him down just a hair. Hayward reads the ball and sees that it will be overthrown. He gets off his man and goes to the ball, leaps, and picks it off.
Context: First possession to start the second quarter in Week 3, 1st and 10, Colts on their own 29-yard line and the Chargers in either Cover 1 or Cover 2 man.
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On the third interception, Chester Rogers (#80) is the intended receiver for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (#12), with Hayward showing press. At the snap, Rogers takes an outside release close to the boundary on a comeback route with Hayward reacting. Roughly six yards upfield, Rogers breaks while Hayward gets a hand on his inside shoulder to steady himself while he makes his own break. While this is going on, Luck already knows that his intended target is Rogers and releases the ball right when Rogers turns to locate the ball. Hayward quickly breaks, steadies himself, and turns to locate the ball, jumping the route and snatching the ball away to get his third pick of the season.
Context: Week 8 against the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter with 8:10 left, Denver is in a 3rd and 10 on their own 15-yard line with San Diego lined up in Cover 2 man.
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On this play, Hayward is tasked with guarding Demaryius Thomas (#87) in the slot. On the play, Thomas releases outside with Hayward putting his hands on his man looking to slow him down with Thomas deflecting Hayward’s hands as he gets vertical. Hayward keeps his body close to Thomas’s when he looks back at Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian’s (#13) cocked arm. The pass is thrown to open receiver Jordan Norwood (#11) on a slant to the left side. Norwood can’t handle the throw as it tips off of his hands landing in the waiting arms of Casey Hayward who secures it and takes it the house for San Diego giving the team a chance at a win.
Context: Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter with the Titans facing a 1st and 10 on their own 21-yard line. The Chargers appear to be in Cover 3.
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On this play, Hayward is playing off and a bit inside over Rishard Matthews (#18), who runs a vertical route. Delani Walker (#82) motions from the short side of the field to the wing on the wide side of the field. Walker runs a wheel route on the play. At the snap Hayward back pedals keeping his eyes on Matthews for a short while. Hayward then executes a zone turn while continuously getting deep turning his attention to second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota (#8). Hayward sees Mariota drop back off of the play action getting ready to throw to an open Delani Walker. He quickly stops and recovers, locates and closes on the ball. Leap. Catch. Interception.
Context: Week 11 at Houston in the second quarter (4:55) with the Texans facing a 1st and 10 and the ball on their own 49 and the Chargers in Cover 1.
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Casey Hayward is in press over DeAndre Hopkins (#10) running a dig route. At the snap, Hopkins takes an inside release upfield with Hayward staying close to his target feeling him with his right hand. Before Hopkins makes his cut, Hayward tugs on Hopkins a bit, forcing the receiver to give a slight push before heading inside. Hayward follows Hopkins to the opposite side of the field where inside pressure forces Brock Osweiler (#17) to roll out to the same side of the field. Osweiler makes his throw on the move, a throw that could have been more far out toward the boundary and not cause Hopkins to slow down. Hayward gets his arms out in front, wrestling the ball away from Hopkins. Nice body control by Hayward gives the Chargers the ball. Below is a better close-up view of Hayward’s body control.
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Context: Week 13 on the first possession of the game with Tampa Bay on their own 43, in a 2nd and 7. San Diego is likely in Cover 4.
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At the start, Mike Evans (#13) is tight on the right side of the formation with Casey Hayward playing off and outside of him. Evans motions to the opposite side diagonally outside of Russell Shepard (#87). Hayward follows and adjusts coverage responsibility with teammate Craig Mager (#29). When the play starts, Evans takes a vertical release for a deep curl with Hayward shuffling back with his eyes on Jameis Winston (#3). As Evans gets about 12 yards downfield, he curves on his break as he makes his turn to his quarterback. Hayward, while still focusing on Winston, feels Evans stop and turn and jumps the route for the turnover (Blitzing linebacker Korey Toomer (#56) possibly affected the amount of time Winston had to throw and Evans not coming back for ball). Again, below is a small clip of the end zone view of the interception.
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There were some opportunities where Hayward put himself in good position to get more interceptions. Let’s dive into the hole.
Context: Week 4 against the Saints on their first possession with New Orleans facing 2nd and 6 with the Chargers lined up in Cover 1.
On this play, Michael Thomas (#13) is on the top of the screen being covered by Hayward, who is in press. Thomas releases outside acting as if he will continue upfield with Hayward mimicking the receiver’s movements. As Thomas breaks inside on a slant route, Hayward gets a hand in Thomas’s frame to slow him down and get in good position to stay in front of the route. The bump is successful as the ball is released to an area where Thomas is supposed to be, only Hayward is there and is in good position to intercept the pass, but the ball goes through his hands.
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Context: Week 8 at Denver with 3:14 left in the first quarter and the Broncos facing a 3rd and 8 and San Diego showing Cover 2 man.
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Another matchup between Casey Hayward and Demaryius Thomas. Thomas gives a jab step inside but Hayward doesn’t react, staying disciplined. Thomas heads upfield for a dig route, Hayward shuffles with him getting a hand on his inside shoulder and gaining inside leverage, making it difficult for Thomas to head inside. Nonetheless, Thomas cuts inside with Hayward flowing with him when the ball is released. Hayward turns looking for the ball and gets an arm out to break it up. Thomas acts as a defender on this play holding on to Hayward’s other arm so he doesn’t have a better chance to intercept the pass. Good play by him.
Context: Same game as above with 4:48 left in the second quarter and the Broncos facing a 2nd and 6 in the redzone and the Chargers lined up in Cover 2.
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The intended target for Trevor Siemian is Virgil Green (#85). Hayward, responsible for the flat, reacts just a hair on the run fake to Devontae Booker (#23). Upon seeing the fake, Hayward reacts with Green who is releasing to the flat on the play side of the field. Hayward takes a quick glance at Emmanuel Sanders (#10) before turning his attention to the quarterback, and not a moment too soon. Hayward quickly flips his hips and gets in front of Green as the pass sails his way. Alas, Hayward couldn’t secure the interception, thanks to a preventive effort by Green, as plenty of green grass was waiting for him on the other side.
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Context: Week 10 hosting Miami with the Dolphins facing a 1st and 10 with 4:22 left in the third quarter and the Charger in what looks like Cover 3 cloud.
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Before the play, the secondary makes their adjustments with Flowers coming inside while Hayward lines up across from DeVante Parker (#11), the intended receiver for Ryan Tannehill (#17), on an out route. Throughout the rep, Hayward is looking at Tannehill, while the quarterback himself is looking Parker’s way from the start of the snap. Hayward shuffle steps back a bit at the snap, then stops and undercuts the intended throwing path when seeing Tannehill’s throwing motion start. The pass is a bit high for Hayward’s outstretched arms to get control but hits him in the mitts. Incomplete pass.
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Context: Week 14 at Carolina with 2:29 remaining in the first quarter. The Panthers have the ball on San Diego’s 27-yard line on a 3rd and 9 with the Chargers in what looks like Cover 2.
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On the final presentation, Hayward is off over Kelvin Benjamin (#13). At the snap, Hayward shuffles upfield while looking at Cam Newton (#1) drop back to pass. Benjamin gets about four yards downfield before cutting for the slant with Hayward reacting to the motion. Newton looks Benjamin’s way but safety Dwight Lowery (#20) is nearby. Newton then looks to the middle of the field and releases the ball quickly for Devin Funchess (#17), with pressure caused by Melvin Ingram (#54). Safety Jahleel Addae (#37) gets a hand out on the pass and makes the deflection as Hayward is the lone participant in the tip drill. Funchess makes a great decision continuing on with the play, locating the ball and hitting Hayward as he makes his grab to force his right foot less than inch out of bounds.
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The fourth quarter collapses were the main story for the Chargers 2016 campaign. Casey Hayward was a bright spot for them, however, with his route recognition and success in zone coverage situations It will be fun to see what this secondary can do with Hayward and a healthy Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers in 2017.